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Destiny’s Child’s Michelle Williams stars in Oprah Winfrey’s musical The Color Purple, playing the vibrant and unforgettable character Shug Avery. After interviewing Williams, it was evident to me that she was destined for stardom. Her body language exudes confidence and her innate charisma speaks charm and rare humility.
Williams began singing in her church choir at the age of seven at the St. Paul Church of God in Christ in her hometown of Rockford, IL. As she grew up, she sang with the gospel groups United Harmony and Chosen Expression, but doubted she would be able to make a career as a singer and attended two years of college.
Destiny is defined as a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency. Destiny has a weird way of working because Williams never imagined becoming part of Destiny’s Child.
In May 1999 she passed an audition to tour and become a backup singer for Monica. Destiny worked its magic and in January 2000, Williams was invited to join Destiny’s Child as a full-time group member.
Williams was first heard on Destiny’s Child’s number one single “Independent Women Part I” and went on to participate in their massively successful 2001 album Survivor, the holiday release 8 Days of Christmas, and the remix album This Is the Remix. In April 2002, she became the first member of Destiny’s Child to issue a solo album, the gospel collection Heart to Yours.
(Sentinel) So Michelle, tell me how did you get involved with The Color Purple project?
(MW) I knew that one day The Color Purple would tour, I just did not know when. So I have to thank my mom who was watching TV one day and called me up and said, “Hey, I just saw a commercial that The Color Purple is coming to Chicago, you need to audition”. So I called my agent to verify that in fact what my mother saw was true and my agent said, “Yes it is they are coming so tell me what do you want to do”, and I said, “I want to audition for the role of Shug Avery”, and the producers were excited that I wanted to audition so they FedEx the script and the music right away.
(Sentinel) So you really went after this part?
(MW) When Destiny’s Child had made I think our last appearance on Oprah, she was debuting The Color Purple as well on her show and I saw a couple cast members I had worked with on Aida in New York, so I said wow here I am working with some of these same people.
(Sentinel) Describe your character in the play and why you chose to go after the role of Shug Avery?
(MW) I love Shug Avery but I know the company was making sure because in the beginning they were like are you sure you don’t want to try for the role of Celie and I was like no. I think they were worried that you know someone like me would want the bigger role and it wasn’t about that. It was about, I think I can roll with Shug and I really identify with her so that’s what I wanted. To me theatre is not about whose name is first just as long as you got my name right on the page, the order of, we’re all good (laughs).
(Sentinel) Tell me a little more about your theatre background and what other projects you have been involved with?
(MW) I did a stage show with Malik Yoba called, Will a Real Man Please Stand Up and that was one of the first. Mathew Knowles was trying to get a theatre division up and Music World off the ground so that was one of his first shows. I was kind of like I can do this so that prepared me for Aida and Aida prepared me for The Color Purple.
(Sentinel) How has it been working with the other cast members? Can you describe the chemistry?
(MW) The chemistry is great. When we’re not on stage we’re speaking, we try to go out and eat, and we just try to keep that camaraderie going. For me, it’s hard to jump into character or jump on stage with somebody that you have no bond with or interest in. Some people can do it and maybe one day I will be thrust into that situation where I may hate my co-star. I know that happens but you know, I don’t have to worry about that here.
(Sentinel) Do you find it hard to deal with the character and the emotions that come along with playing the role of Shug? Does it ever take a toll on you personally?
(MW) I come to the show as Michelle Williams and the amazing thing is I don’t really get into character but I love that fact that people that know me are like “wow I didn’t see Michelle up there I really saw Shug”. You know when I go home I am back to regular old me because when I go home I go home. But there is no set formula that I have for this show. I just feed off of the crowd and the other cast members.
(Sentinel) Are you planning on doing anything in television or cinema?
(MW) You know whatever comes, comes. As long as it feels like the right thing for me. I did three episodes of Half and Half that aired on UPN so that got me wanting to do television. I love the stability of TV sitcoms and the stability of theatre.
(Sentinel) Let’s talk about your music career. Are you working on any new projects?
(MW) I’m working on my first mainstream album. It will be out in May of 2008. It’s got a more of a pop feel to it. It is totally unexpected of Michelle Williams. She is still going to keep it good. I’m going to keep it me. I’m keeping it clean, keeping it exciting, and it’s something new. Everybody gets excited when it’s something new and then coming from me everybody is like okay what she is going to come do.
(Sentinel) Touching back on The Color Purple, what do you think fans and the audience can get from The Color Purple experience and take home with them?
(MW) If you’re ready for that spiritual experience, the journeys of ups and downs, that cleansing and that healing that you may need, you probably should come and check out The Color Purple. It is the musical about love. You rejoice, you cry, your happy, you laugh and there are so many emotions that you can take away that you actually are going to go through when you see this show.